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Calvin’s Institutes in a Nutshell

The other day I stumbled across a great feature of the Henry Beveridge translation of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion in my Logos library. At the end of the book, Beveridge includes One Hundred Aphorisms, containing, within a narrow compass, the substance and order of the four books of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, by Rev. William Pringle. Essentially, Pringle has boiled down the four books of Institutes into 100 bullet points. And these are simply “light” observations. Pringle really brings out the depth of the various sections he references from Institutes. For example, here is what Pringle has to say about Calvin’s section on self-denial:

50. The sum of the Christian life is denial of ourselves.

51. The ends of this self-denial are four. 1. That we may devote ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. 2. That we may not seek our own things, but those which belong to God and to our neighbour. 3. That we may patiently bear the cross, the fruits of which are—acknowledgment of our weakness, the trial of our patience, correction of faults, more earnest prayer, more cheerful meditation on eternal life. 4. That we may know in what manner we ought to use the present life and its aids, for necessity and delight. Necessity demands that we possess all things as though we possessed them not; that we bear poverty with mildness, and abundance with moderation; that we know how to endure patiently fulness, and hunger, and want; that we pay regard to our neighbour, because we must give account of our stewardship; and that all things correspond to our calling. The delight of praising the kindness of God ought to be with us a stronger argument.

1 John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010), 566-67.

Having this resource will certainly help anyone looking to see the bird’s eye view of Institutes, or refresh and review the essence of Calvin’s work.

The Ever Growing American Calvinism Today

On June 25th, 1944, The Doctor—Martyn Lloyd-Jones—gave a radio address for the BBC in Wales on the man, John Calvin. He began with the statement:

“Nothing is more significant of the great change which has happened in the field of theology during the past twenty years than the place now afforded, and the attention given, to the great man of Geneva who is the subject of this address.”1

The same can be said for America today, as the resurgence of Calvinism—both the New- Calvinist and the Old—is growing faster, larger, and deeper into the roots of Evangelical Theology since the Great Awakening in the 1700s. Lloyd-Jones went on in his address, noting that,

Up to almost twenty years ago there was very little attention paid to John Calvin, and when someone spoke of him it was in order to heap insults on him scornfully.”2

The former part of this statement essentially summarizes the standpoint of America in the past fifty to eighty years. Unfortunately, with the climax of Dispensationalism between the 1950s and 1970s, and with the growth of evangelical phenomena such as Fundamentalism, the Mega-Church movements, and Seeker-Friendly ideals, John Calvin and the Calvinist-Reformed Faith as a whole was laid aside. If it was brought up for discussion, it was laughed at as though it was a cult of some sort. However, as Lloyd-Jones affirmed further in his address:

That is not the situation today. In fact, there is more mention of him than there has been for almost a century, and Calvin and Calvinism are the subjects of many arguments and debates in theological circles… The time is ripe, therefore, for us to cast another glance at this man who has influenced the life of the world to such an extent.“3

May America today continue to seek the biblical truth in which Calvin did for his time, his city, but more for His God. May America continue to seek out their theology, and continue to learn from the writings of John Calvin—not merely to popularize him or idolize him, because Calvin would have never wanted that. But to make known and lift up John Calvin’s God—our God—The Supreme Being, The LORD who sits in authority and reigns over all things in complete sovereignty.

1 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered on Various Occasions 1942-1977. (Carisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), 32.
2 Ibid., 32.
3 Ibid., 32-3.

And so we see a rising tide of Calvinism in America today. By the end of this year alone there will have been more books published, and more conferences and addresses given— that is, more than ever—on the man who, in my opinion, is the greatest theologian of all time: John Calvin. And like The Doctor, I say, “The time is ripe.” We have gathered here in Geneva for the 500th birthday of John Calvin—not merely to popularize him or idolize him, because Calvin would have never wanted that. We are here, rather, to make known and lift up John Calvin’s God—our God—The Supreme Being, The LORD who sits in authority and reigns over all things in complete sovereignty. I would like to consider an important, yet often neglected aspect of John Calvin’s theology as it finds expression in his vast corpus of writings – the doctrine of adoption.

The Need for Scripture

The need for Scripture is confirmed By ONE the depravity of our nature making it necessary in every one who would know God to have recourse to the word and by TWO From those passages of the Psalms in which God is introduced as reigning. Calvin writes in 1.6.3 of his Institutes,

For if we reflect how prone the human mind is to lapse into forgetfulness of God, how readily inclined to every kind of error, how bent every now and then on devising new and fictitious religions, it will be easy to understand how necessary it was to make such a depository of doctrine as would secure it from either perishing by the neglect, vanishing away amid the errors, or being corrupted by the presumptuous audacity of men. It being thus manifest that God, foreseeing the inefficiency of his image imprinted on the fair form of the universe, has given the assistance of his Word to all whom he has ever been pleased to instruct effectually, we, too, must pursue this straight path, if we aspire in earnest to a genuine contemplation of God;—we must go, I say, to the Word, where the character of God, drawn from his works is described accurately and to the life; these works being estimated, not by our depraved Judgment, but by the standard of eternal truth. If, as I lately said, we turn aside from it, how great soever the speed with which we move, we shall never reach the goal, because we are off the course. We should consider that the brightness of the Divine countenance, which even an apostle declares to be inaccessible (1 Tim. 6:16), is a kind of labyrinth,—a labyrinth to us inextricable, if the Word do not serve us as a thread to guide our path; and that it is better to limp in the way, than run with the greatest swiftness out of it. Hence the Psalmist, after repeatedly declaring (Psalm 93, 96, 97, 99, &c). that superstition should be banished from the world in order that pure religion may flourish, introduces God as reigning; meaning by the term, not the power which he possesses and which he exerts in the government of universal nature, but the doctrine by which he maintains his due supremacy: because error never can be eradicated from the heart of man until the true knowledge of God has been implanted in it.

How Bad Do You Need the Scripture?

The Scriptures act as a guide for the people of God, better yet they are the teacher bringing those that our the Lord’s elect to Him. How much greater is it for the believer of the gospel to know that they have been given the Scriptures, so that they might know Him and live in obedience for him. Calvin writes on this issue in his institutes 1.6.1. saying,

Therefore, though the effulgence which is presented to every eye, both in the heavens and on the earth, leaves the ingratitude of man without excuse, since God, in order to bring the whole human race under the same condemnation, holds forth to all, without exception, a mirror of his Deity in his works, another and better help must be given to guide us properly to God as a Creator. Not in vain, therefore, has he added the light of his Word in order that he might make himself known unto salvation, and Continue Reading…

The Life of a Christian Man

For the Christian Man today life can at times seem hard to draw the connection between living yet in a sinful body but being regenerated already. Yet John Calvin does an amazing job explaining this relationship – the Necessity of the doctrine concerning the Male Christian Life. The brevity of this treatise. The method of it. Plainness and unadorned simplicity of the Scripture system of morals for the man to live out today. He says,

We have said that the object of regeneration is to bring the life of believers into concord and harmony with the righteousness of God, and so confirm the adoption by which they have been received as sons. But although the law comprehends within it that new life by which the image of God is restored in us, yet, as our sluggishness stands greatly in need both of helps and incentives it will be useful to collect out of Scripture a true account of this reformations lest any who have a heartfelt desire of repentance should in their zeal go astray. Moreover, I am not unaware that, in undertaking to describe the life of the Christian, I am entering on a large and extensive subject, one which, when fully considered in all its parts, is sufficient to fill a large volume. We see the length to which the Fathers in treating of individual virtues extend their exhortations. This they do, not from mere loquaciousness; for whatever be the virtue which you undertake to recommend, your pen is spontaneously led by the copiousness of the matter so to amplify, that you seem Continue Reading…

John Calvin Dealing with Self-Denial

It can easily be said that the summary of the Christian Life is one that is in constant self-denial. To what exactly it takes for one to be consistent in this may be at hard times to see. Understanding that the christian is not of his own, but only to seek the glory of God obeying His will can at times get hard living in the fallen flesh. However self-denial is still commanded of the Lord’ people. He who neglects it, deceived either by pride or hypocrisy, rushes on destruction. John Calvin provides quite the wisdom dealing with this issue in his Institutes 3.7.2 saying,

Hence follows the other principle, that we are not to seek our own, but the Lord’s will, and act with a view to promote his glory. Great is our proficiency, when, almost forgetting ourselves, certainly postponing our own reason, we faithfully make it our study to obey God and his commandments. For when Scripture enjoins us to lay aside private regard to ourselves, it not only divests our minds of an excessive longing for wealth, or power, or human favour, but eradicates all ambition and Continue Reading…

Calvin on Baptismal Mode

I’ve been reading about baptism lately and came across this comment by John Calvin (Institutes IV, xv, 19) on the issue of mode.

Whether the person baptised is to be wholly immersed, and that whether once or thrice, or whether he is only to be sprinkled with water, is not of the least consequence: churches should be at liberty to adopt either, according to the diversity of climates, although it is evident that the term baptise means to immerse, and that this was the form used by the primitive Church.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

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